Noah Greenblatt is a journalism freshman and Mustang News sports reporter. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
On the afternoon of Christmas day, John Madden assembled his closest friends and family around the TV. The occasion: A documentary about him and his career, “All Madden,” was set to premiere and he wanted to watch it with the people he loved. As the documentary progressed, Madden and those around him couldn’t contain their joy at what they were seeing, and smiles lit up the whole room for all 90 minutes of the runtime.
The next day, he and his wife Virginia celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary together.
Two days later, something deemed impossible (or at least, improbable) by many became a stark reality: John Madden, legendary broadcaster, Hall of Fame coach of the Oakland Raiders and video game pioneer, passed away on Dec. 28 at the age of 85 years old.
Before he went on to his illustrious career, Madden was a lineman with a history of knee injuries. In 1957, he transferred to Cal Poly, where he won all-conference honors at offensive tackle. In 1958, Madden was drafted in the 21st round by the Philadelphia Eagles, but suffered a final injury to his knee in his first training camp, ending his playing career without having had an opportunity to play professionally.
So, he became a coach.
Madden’s entire career is legendary (all three of his careers, to be more specific), but it’s his coaching that put him in the Hall of Fame. Madden spent all 12 seasons of his NFL coaching career with the Oakland Raiders, 10 of them as head coach from 1969-1978. When he was appointed, he set the first of his many benchmarks and records: he became the youngest-ever head coach in NFL history at the age of 32.
During his ten seasons in charge of the Silver and Black, he won American Football League (AFL) Coach of the Year in his first season, coached seven Raiders into the Pro Football Hall of Fame – a place he himself arrived at in 2006 – and only missed the playoffs twice.
However, his crowning achievement had to have been his 1976 Super Bowl XI Champion Raiders squad. That year, the team won their fifth division championship in a row (their sixth in seven seasons), finished with the best record in the NFL and are still considered one of the greatest teams of all time.
However, it turned out that all the success, including becoming the youngest coach to ever win a Super Bowl at the time, had not only given him nothing left to do as a coach – it left him burned out, tired and ready to walk off into retirement.
And so, retire he did, at the age of 42. He finished his career with a 103-32-7 record, which remains the best winning percentage, at 75.9%, of any coach who won a minimum of 100 games.
Despite this, Madden never liked to live in the past. The first season after his retirement, he joined CBS Sports as a color commentator for the NFL.
Then, in 1981, in perhaps the greatest production move in the history of American sports television history, Madden replaced Tom Brookshier as lead analyst and joined another all-time great in the booth: Pat Summerall. Together, they formed one of — if not the — greatest broadcast duos ever. Madden and Summerall worked with each other every Sunday for the next 22 seasons, across two networks and eight Super Bowls.
Through their words and wisdom, Americans not only sat at their TVs watching the game, but listening to the duo as they played off of each other expertly. Summerall brilliantly served as the straight-man, play-by-play announcer while Madden took on the role of the hilarious and fun-loving analyst, who still somehow managed to remain serious enough to expertly and clearly explain, inform and educate football fans around the country with his insight into the plays on the field.
He was, to put it simply, the best.
Madden’s list of all-time great moments in the booth is as endless as his expertise. Most famous among them are his breakdown of the “family” of Gatorade buckets on the Giants sideline during their Super Bowl XXI win and his usage of exuberant phrases like “boom!” and “doink,” (that one–nobody had heard before).
Yet the most famous of these moments belongs to the introduction of the Madden Cruiser, the giant tour bus that, due to his aversion to flying, Madden used to get from game to game. Madden would often make many stops along the way to his games — signing autographs, doing meet-and-greets and just being Madden.
He wasn’t done yet, though, as he still had one more piece to add to his illustrious legacy.
In 1984, John Madden was approached about making a football video game. He immediately agreed, so long as the game was 11-on-11. Only 7-on-7 play was allowed by technology at the time and he was warned that it could take years to build a game that squeezed 22 players on one screen.
“Then it will take years,” he famously replied.
Well, it took two, and the franchise has sold north of 130 million copies of the famous “Madden” video game since its release in 1988.
The game in football heaven can finally be played. The lineup cards, with names of those long gone, and those gone too soon — like Sayers, Starr, Tillman, Payton, Seau, Taylor and McNair — can finally be filled out. The coaching staffs — like Shula, Halas, Landry, Walsh and Brown— can finally be assembled. The plays can finally be drawn up.
The last piece of the puzzle has now arrived: John Madden. Madden is with Summerall once again, calling games and sharing laughs for the rest of time, and leaving us with only the memories.
Thank you, Coach, for everything.